Sayisi Dene First Nation chief believes drugs in the mail contributed to death of man on the weekend

The death of a man on Sayisi Dene First Nation, the northernmost First Nation in Manitoba, have leaders calling for more support and changes in the community.

“I find it stressful, I find it worrisome, and I need to keep calling out so that we get the help we need you know,” said Sayisi Dene Chief Evan Yassie.

A 21-year-old man from the community died this past weekend. It’s not confirmed, but Yassie believe that drugs led to a series of events around the man’s death.

According to the RCMP, the man was accused of assaulting multiple people in the community over several days. When police caught up to him, he took his life.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee said he’s concerned about illegal substances entering the community via Canada Post.

“I know that there are laws that prevent and prohibit people from looking through personal mail and that is what is allowing the drugs to go through the system. So, therefore, we need to look at ways on how we can work together to ensure that we have the ability and also the capacity to be able to protect the community from illegal and illicit drugs going to First Nations,” Settee said.

Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said in a statement he’ll be meeting with federal Justice Minister David Lametti later this week to discuss illegal substances going through the mail.

“This is an issue nationally, that police have raised in an effort to obtain federal authority to better prevent deadly drugs, like opioids, moving through the mail system and a concern that I share as well,” Goertzen said in a statement.

Canada Post said the devastating toll illicit drug and alcohol has in Indigenous communities is of great concern, and they are working on enhanced security measures.

“We are working closely with law enforcement partners in the northern Manitoba region, and our postal inspectors continue to coordinate efforts with the local post offices and community leaders,” said Hayley Magermans of Canada Post.

Magerman added that Canada post does not have enforcement authority in First Nations communities.

Sayisi Dene is a remote fly-in community, with the only other mode of transportation via winter road, which is currently closed.

Yassie said that he’s calling for more support.

“The infrastructure is not there, the funding levels don’t meet the needs of the community, and the capacity of the community communication-wise hinders the way we can respond to emergency situations within the community and so there’s a lot of factors here going on,” he said.

The chief said some of the specific problems include online schooling issues for children due to connectivity, no in-community mental health supports as they need to be flown in, and while the community does have a holding cell, none of the members have the proper training in order for it to be used.

The people of Sayisi Dene were forcibly relocated from their homeland near Little Duck Lake to the outskirts of Churchill in 1956.

That change was devastating and by the time the community relocated to Tadoule Lake in 1973, many had died from a variety of factors including alcohol.

Yassie said many of the community’s elders have passed on to the spirit world leaving many of the younger population alone.

He said today’s younger community members are still dealing with the impacts of the relocation and coupled with the remoteness and connectivity issues, supports are needed for them as well, including getting them back on the land.

“That’s kind of one of my key objectives is how do I get them back out on the land, how do we all go back out on the land and get the teachings that we need to reconnect with our traditional values and cultures and teachings and the skills that we have as a people, strong people that moved with the caribou.”

The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba is investigating the death of the 21-year-old man. Neither police or Chief Yassie identified the man.

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